Patch School Board Candidate Questionnaire
District A Candidate Stephanie Kapsis
Occupation: Senior Managing Director, Teach For America
Incumbent or non-incumbent: Non-Incumbent
How long have you been an Alexandria resident? Three years
Which neighborhood do you live in? Del Ray
Website, Facebook page or other contact information: www.StephanieForSchoolBoard.com, StephanieForSchoolBoard@gmail.com
What unique perspective, experience or expertise would you bring to the School Board?
As the only candidate with classroom teaching experience, I bring the perspective and skill-set of an educator to the board. I will draw from my front-line experience as a teacher, teacher coach and education nonprofit manager to formulate policy that expands access to opportunity to all of our students.
As a teacher, I helped craft a dual language program. I navigated multiple curricula, professional development opportunities and assessment resources in order to lead my students towards our academic goals. As a teacher coach, I supported teachers in using curricular resources to design instructional tools such as goals, plans, assessments, and data tracking systems. As an education nonprofit manager, I have engaged in multi-year, annual and quarterly strategic planning processes that work toward a specific vision and include strategic priorities. I have managed both public-private partnership contracts, and components of an $8.5 million annual operating budget. I have had the ability to source talent, hire, coach and develop, and promote individuals, as well as terminate ineffective employees when necessary.
I have worked closely with 163 schools and district leaders in Washington, D.C., and Prince George’s County, Md., along with community based organizations, teachers, and families. I understand the importance of collaboration and seeking multiple perspectives to both truly understand an issue and make decisions that represent the needs and interests of the community.
I have a master’s in Teaching and Spanish language fluency which would allow me to engage directly with a large portion of our ELL community.
What are top challenges facing ACPS and how do you plan to engage the community to address them?
Expanding educational opportunity for all students in ACPS is a key challenge and priority. If elected, I plan to prioritize actions that set up all students to reach their highest potential. Based on my experience as an educator and many conversations with members of the community, I would focus on:
- Prioritizing Teacher and Leader Quality: The most successful schools and school systems are those with the strongest leadership at every level. I commit to ensure that there are strong systems and structures in place to recruit, cultivate and retain excellent leaders in our system. I want to ensure that teachers receive meaningful, effective, and efficient professional development that is designed by and for teachers.
- Expanding Early Childhood Education: If we don’t focus on early childhood education, and early literacy development, then we are setting back our children from day one. Studies show that half of the achievement gap that exists by the 12th grade is present before kindergarten ever begins. I will fight tirelessly for access to early childhood programs for all students in Alexandria City.
- Increasing opportunities for family and parent engagement: I want every family to feel like their child is set up for success and well positioned to achieve. We must identify opportunities for parents and community members to engage in our schools, become advocates for their students’ education and learn concrete strategies to strengthen their child’s learning.
What role do the members of the School Board play in ensuring transparency and accountability at the ACPS Central Office?
The School Board has the important responsibility of managing the superintendent and holding him and his administration accountable to Alexandria’s families and guardians. If the ACPS Central Office makes a decision that is not clearly communicated to the community, does not engage the community sufficiently in the decision process, or makes a questionable decision, it is the role of the School Board to ensure there is accountability and transparency moving forward. I would ensure transparency and accountability in the following ways:
- Engaging community members authentically in decision-making processes. School Board members (as well as ACPS staff and school leaders) should reach out to teachers, families, and community members to discuss implications of a decision and ensure that all perspectives are being considered.
- Ensuring that the School Board sets clear measures of success for the superintendent and central office. These measures of success should then be tracked ongoing, analyzed to find causes of successes and challenges, shared publicly with the community through multiple forms of communication, and adjusted as necessary collaboratively.
- Sharing context on decision-making during school board meetings. I commit to sharing context on my decision-making process during school board votes. I will ensure that my detailed views on specific board decisions become part of public record to help ensure transparency between the school board, ACPS and the community.
What is your opinion of the superintendent’s job performance?
While I believe that the superintendent is committed to improving student learning and making decisions in the best interest of students, I think that there are administrative gaps in stability, transparency and accountability.
While reform and innovation are important for a school system, there must also be a balance between launching new initiatives and supporting existing plans in place. This school year alone has seen a number of quickly made shifts—such as a roll-out of new curricula at some schools and the school day calendar extension at Jefferson-Houston—which have left some families and teachers feeling like they were not authentically part of the decision-making processes and concerned that their calendars or lesson plans must now be re-vamped at the last minute. Many central office decisions must be made quickly, but a fast timeline should not preclude the ability to engage in thoughtful evaluation processes with key members of the community.
The superintendent is responsible for ensuring that all of Alexandria’s students are receiving an excellent education, and for providing the community with an accurate and transparent picture of performance. While there were certainly some big wins to celebrate in terms of student achievement last year (including Cora Kelly’s math proficiency and T.C. Williams' AP results), there still remains much work to do across our schools in terms of student achievement performance. In reviewing communication between ACPS and the community, a true picture of performance that includes areas of concern and possible causes, was not highlighted.
How can a School Board member improve communication between ACPS and parents/caregivers?
It is essential that school board members know what is happening on the ground in our schools. In order to have a pulse of ongoing successes and challenges, I commit to not only attending PTA and community meetings as frequently as possible, but also to visiting an ACPS school every week. Additionally, I will hold weekly office hours and share decision-making structures (as seen above) to allow for both honest conversation and additional transparency. School board members must be trusted to make decisions in the interest of all of Alexandria’s students, and engaging in authentic conversations with both ACPS (district level and schools) and parents/caregivers, is an essential piece of that. In order to engage all families, the school board should also ensure that school board members can communicate (either through language ability or translated services) in a parent/caregiver’s native language.
What are some of your ACPS budget priorities? For example, do you favor spending more money to keep class sizes low or a longer school year or day? Are there certain areas that should be trimmed financially?
My budget priorities are focused on spending dollars that will directly impact student learning. Two areas of focus include expanding access to early childhood education and providing additional ways for families and communities to engage in student learning.
Early childhood education is not currently a priority of ACPS, and is rather described as a “shared priority with the city of Alexandria.” I believe that access to early childhood education is fundamental to making our school system reach its potential, and would therefore support spending more money on early childhood teachers, facilities, and resources to ensure that all families that hope to send their students to early childhood classes have the ability to do so.
In order to maximize student learning, we must also engage families and guardians. I therefore support funding for adult literacy programs, language translation, and programs that provide skill building for supporting student learning for families and guardians.
The next School Board likely will need to address the possibility of boundary adjustments and attendance zone changes. What are your guiding principles regarding economic or racial segregation, neighborhood schools, magnet schools, class and school sizes, busing policies and other considerations?
Any redistricting decisions should be made using extensive data on student enrollment projections and be part of a comprehensive long term plan that looks at upcoming citywide development. I believe that class sizes should be kept as small as possible (I support the current class size caps), and community feedback should be incorporated into the decision-making process. Students should ideally be zoned for their neighborhood school, with the option to apply to a magnet program or school with a standard calendar if an alternate calendar doesn’t work with a family’s schedule. If boundary adjustments affect a family’s zoned school, younger siblings should be able to attend the older sibling’s school.
What role does a School Board member play in helping raise academic achievement for all students and close the achievement gap?
The School Board is charged with making policy decisions for ACPS, managing the superintendent and setting the budget. It is critical that in each of these role components, students—and the recognition that all students have unique skills and needs—be at the focus of every decision and discussion. Through a close pulse on issues in the community and strong relationships with parents, community members, teachers, and elected representatives, school board members should make decisions in the best interest of all of Alexandria’s students. From my first grade dual language classroom to the management of an education nonprofit, I have focused my career on closing the achievement gap and raising the achievement level for all students, and sincerely hope that I have the opportunity to leverage my skills and experiences in the community I call home.